People die every day in Gotham City, the fictional hive of corruption where patrols the rooftops. But not until Wednesday did the Dark Knight find himself investigating a Black teenager in a hoodie shot dead by a frightened white police officer, let alone wondering about his own indirect role in the boy’s death.
The latest issue of DC Comics’ flagship Batman series throws itself headfirst into the agonizing conversations roiling America more than a year after Ferguson officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year old Michael Brown. The globally iconic superhero confronts racialized police brutality and its intersection with urban poverty and gentrification – problems Batman comes to realize he exacerbates in his secret identity as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne. Comics critics say they are hard pressed to remember Batman ever addressing institutional racism and its socio-economic dimensions as bluntly as this in the character’s 75-year history.
While police corruption has long been a feature of Gotham–even showing up on a Fox TV adaptation about to enter its second season–it is rarely shown to disproportionately impact black people. Yet, Batman #44, a flashback story, begins with the blunt image of a dead Black boy, his body left “for the crows,” as the narration reads, resonant of Michael Brown in Ferguson. He wears a hooded sweatshirt before George Zimmerman killed the 17-year old. What begins as “A Simple Case,” the title of the issue, becomes a meditation on the meaning of a rich, white vigilante who attempts to solve intractable urban problems by beating up bad guys.